Daddy and Them

Daddy and Them is a comedy-drama written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton that stars Thornton and Laura Dern as Claude and Ruby Montgomery, a passionate but antagonistic married couple from Arkansas. Insecurity about measuring up to one another’s past romantic relationships stands as their biggest point of contention, which is further complicated by Claude’s past relationship with Ruby’s older sister, Rose, before he married Ruby.

Claude travels with Ruby, Rose, and his mother-in-law Jewel to support his extended family when his Uncle Hazel is arrested for attempted murder. The plot largely centers around the chronic dysfunction of the Montgomery family. In the DVD commentary, Thornton remarked that “one of the things about this movie, one of the things I intended when I wrote it, was to show how people don’t connect—it’s about communication. And if you notice, [the family members are] always, like, answering things that weren’t the question, or, someone will say something, and it’s just totally ignored and they go on to the next subject.” Uncle Hazel is eventually freed when his accuser recants his false testimony.

Daddy and Them was shot in 1999 while filming was stalled on Thornton’s forthcoming project All the Pretty Horses. Thornton had intended for Daddy and Them to be released first, but All the Pretty Horses was released in 2000. Daddy and Them eventually debuted at the Newport Independent Film Festival on June 6, 2001, and received only a very limited U.S. release four months later, as distributor Miramax Films did not believe that the movie was going to be a commercial success. The DVD version was released on January 13, 2004.

Producers Bruce Heller and Bob Salerno said that Daddy and Them had the shortest production schedule of any movie they had been associated with—just over three months. The movie had a budget of around $5 million, and Thornton utilized much of the same production crew he had used for his directorial debut, Sling Blade. Filming took place in Cabot (Lonoke County) and various locations around Little Rock (Pulaski County), including Pinnacle Mountain State Park and the interior of the Arkansas State Capitol.

The film presents an impressive supporting cast, including Andy Griffith, Diane Ladd, Kelly Preston, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Affleck, Walton Goggins, and country singer/songwriter John Prine. Country stars Dwight Yoakam and Ray Benson performed a cover version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” for the movie. Arkansas-born actors Jeff Bailey and Tamara Glynn also had supporting roles. Nearly every actor in the cast had a personal or professional relationship with Thornton prior to the movie.

Daddy and Them also features the final on-screen performance of Jim Varney before his death on February 10, 2000. Varney was best known for his role as Ernest P. Worrell, who was featured in several television advertisement campaigns and movies throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In speaking of Varney, Thornton said he was “one of the smartest guys I ever met in my lifetime. I miss him.” The film is dedicated to his memory.

For additional information:
Daddy and Them.” Internet Movie Database. (accessed September 28, 2021).

DVD commentary for Daddy and Them. Miramax Home Entertainment, 2004.

Adam Miller
Austin, Texas


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